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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Your Means of Support

Your Means of Support

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Greetings everyone, I was speaking with a group of new teachers last week, and we were chatting about the types of support that they need in their beginning years, and the types of support that the district thinks they need. There was a difference! I thought that I would throw the question out to you. What types of support did you find to be most important in your first months/years of practice? Was it emotional support? Was it help with lesson/unit planning? Was it assistance in deciphering the curriculum expectations? Was it advice on classroom management? Where did you find that support? Were there programs in place to help, or did you have to go elsewhere to get what you neede? I would be very interested in getting some response from those of you who are just starting out, as well as those of us who have been around for a bit! Stephen

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Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Steve J. Moore's picture
Steve J. Moore
I'm a writing teacher in Kansas City

New teachers need so many different kinds of support. I have found that it isn't ever just one thing, like management or planning, but always pluralistic in nature. So, instead of offering each to new teachers we need to be sure they have a broad base of emotional support.

Joan Young's picture
Joan Young
Fourth grade teacher from Redwood City, California

I believe, like Steve mentioned, that teachers need a variety of supports. I think it would be great if districts gave new teachers a means of asking for support that addresses their greatest needs. We have BTSA in our district, but with all of the forms, regulations, mandates for lots of paperwork involved, it seems that it adds stress and more work instead of providing support, meaningful reflection and active changes. Many new teachers mention classroom management as a challenge; I believe that giving them emotional support and helping them set up a learning environment that promotes autonomy and efficacy goes a long way in building their skills in those key first years.

Stephen Hurley's picture
Stephen Hurley
Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

Joan, you mention the term efficacy. I think that this is crucial, and would love to hear more about what efficacy in a teacher looks like.


Emily Holbrook's picture
Emily Holbrook
Elementary teacher of 6-7 year olds in Ohio

For me having a mentor teacher who has taught in my position for many years is very helpful. She knows some of the parts of the content and how to get them across better than I do. Sometimes just sitting and talking with her about things I am struggling with is helpful, even if she doesn't suggest a way to fix it.
Also I could have used help in setting up the classroom in the first few weeks of school to make it the most successful. I entered my full time position in the middle of November, and I find this hard because I do not know how the classroom was set up in the beginning of the year and I am not sure how to do it next year. I am still collaborating with other teachers in my building on this.

LiveLoveTeach's picture

Hello all.

I'd like to forewarn that this may turn into a lengthy post...

This seems to be my first post to this "thread" thus far; however, I did post on another and introduced myself - To fill in on here, I am nearing 25 years old this summer and am day-to-day substituting, despite my dream and goal to have landed a full-time job out of college, work towards my masters, and leave my windows of opportunity open to be able to start a family. Much to my dismay, that goal is out of reach right now.

I went through, as described to me by one of my former college professors, a very unfortunate and rare first year of teaching. In regards to the very first post on here, I believe I was under the illustion that I had support and help from all angles, when in reality, I hadn't felt more alone and lost. I didn't know what questions to ask, and when I finally did, it was either too late, or I felt like I was showing weakness by actually asking for help. Under the circumstances of being a long-term substitute (filling in for two separate maternity leaves) during my "first year" of teaching, I was expected to fill the shoes, to the best of my ability, of the teacher who was on leave. Little did I know, this was a literal expectation. A very literal one.

During my five years of college and all throughout my life, I have always been praised for being myself - for being creative, helpful, trustworthy, silly, friendly to all, flexible.. etc, etc. I didn't enter the teaching profession to fit into a cookie cutter mold of the person next door to me, or the former Teacher of the Year. I was highly recommended by many of my professors in college, my co-op, and supervisor, and after failing to meet the unknowing expectations evidently placed upon me during my first year, to figuratively become someone else, has left me doubting myself as an educator. Doubting that I really will be able to fulfill my goal that I had originally set forth for myself. So much went on my first year that left me upset, to tears, more days than I can count, questioning whether or not this is really what I wanted to do the rest of my life.

I am undoubtedly in love with the profession of teaching and I know that I am a fantastic teacher; however, as any reflective individual might admit, I know that there are always areas I can improve on. With all of my free time, I have constructed a solid plan for my future classroom and how I want it to look, sound, and feel. Yet, despite my optimistic self-confidence, I am discouragingly afraid that with my expanded job search that I have embarked on, the reality of the "unknown" is leaving me to know there's a possibility of having to go with the strains and stresses of what my first year was all over again somewhere else.

For now, I have been looking to all of you, my unknown, fellow educators, for your positivity and encouraging words to help me see there's a light at the end of the tunnel ... because right now, the tunnel is black and all I have with me is a tiny match that's about to burn out.

Lisa Dabbs's picture
Lisa Dabbs
Educational Consultant. Author. Speaker. Blogger.

When I read your words, "I believe I was under the illusion that I had support and help from all angles, when in reality, I hadn't felt more alone and lost." My heart went out to you.
I was an elementary school principal for 14 years. I spent all of those years consistently mentoring, supporting, guiding my teachers. If you read the research on why young people like yourself leave the teaching profession, it turns out that it is exactly for those reasons you describe. A school should work to foster a culture where its teachers collaborate and learn from one another. This is at the heart of how educators grow as professionals. However, some of my admin colleagues still struggle with this piece. We need to do so much better.
I entered the teaching profession at 24 years of age, as a Kindergarten teacher. I was fortunate to have come from a long line of educators. But even with this "DNA" I still encountered a great deal of frustration and anxiety in my first year.
I too am a VERY creative person, and I had many ideas as to how I wanted to teach my class. I quickly learned, by observing the culture of my school, and having to share a classroom, that I had to harness that creativity into focused, structured, well designed lesson plans. I did so by incorporating those creative ideas in such a way that measurable outcomes were clear and evident. This meant including assessments of my Kinders, even "back in the day". I used a few highly recommended teaching tools from my Child Development course work. As well as others that were recommended to me. It also meant that I asked to "observe" other teacher at my school to get a feel for, once again, the culture of the school and what was going to be expected of me.
I lived and breathed "teaching" those first few years, and spent nights and weekends reading, creating, planning, all things "Kinder".
The kicker is I too felt very alone, as I did not have a supportive principal, or colleague. My kinder team member was an older woman who believed in "kill and drill" for K kids and I was mortified! In addition to that, no one on staff had a Child Development degree. They were teachers by default. Folks who had other majors, but then decided that teaching looked good, so they jumped on the band wagon. As a result they were not pleased when I began to talk about child development issues and how those directly influenced how children learn and should be allowed to develop. How students should be allowed to use hands-on learning opportunities, not paper pencil tasks. That, was not well received at all. The bottom line is that my first few years were rough!
What made me stick it out? I held on to my dream ,desire and passion.I held on to the knowledge that I knew the research about what was good for children. I didn't give up, even when 6 of my 8 K teacher team talked about me behind my back. Did I have a mentor teacher? No. Was it hard? Extremely. But I kept pressing forward because I believed in my self and cared deeply for my students. And remember...there were NO internet support groups back then!
Getting back to my first points, we know so much more now about how to keep, retain and support new teachers. The research is very clear and you need a good mentor (or two). You don't have to stick it out alone, nor should you. It's time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back in the game! There is a wealth of opportunity for on-line mentoring support. Here at Edutopia, as well as tons of other websites, emailing mentors,blogs, Twitter and fabulous books. A "real" person/team supporting you on site is the ideal. I encourage you to seek that out and do not see it as a "sign of weakness". It will be your strength. In the meantime, I extend a hand to you, as a "creative" tenured educator,if you'd like an on-line mentor. This is my passion. I currently mentor a young woman who attends Biola University in So Cal. We meet for coffee and talk "teacher" stuff. It's great fun! We both thoroughly enjoy it and I'm able to share my resources with her.
So...let me know how I can help. Get out there and get your edu game on! Get rid of the match, and start burning a torch!

LiveLoveTeach's picture


I couldn't stop smiling as I read your post. Thank you so much for your support! It's nice to know, in a bittersweet sort of way, that someone else has been in my shoes. Not only did I feel alone in my positions I was in last year among my fellow teachers, but the same feeling resonated among my college friends too. They had all landed full-time jobs and couldn't relate to any of the experiences I was going through. Still, although they look out for me by telling me, "You should apply here.. They're hiring", or, "Apply to my district, I'll put in a good word for you" - it's the fact that because I apparantly hadn't lived up to the expectations my former administrators had for me, my "record" that I left with in no way reflects who I truly am as a teacher. Being in my first year, last year, and knowing (as well as being told face to face) that I had no help/support like a tenured teacher would, I didn't stand up for my self as I know I should have, or asked for help like I probably could have. There is much more to the story that would help explain the entire situation, but I don't feel it would be professional of me to put it "out there" for all to see. Regardless, I am stuck in a position now where all I can do is continue to develop myself and my vision for my classroom, continue to expand my job search by applying to new places and attend various job fairs for teachers, and hope that there is a team of administrators like yourself, Lisa, that truly and genuinely are there to help me and believe in me. I hope to keep in touch with you, as it is such a nice feeling to hear encouraging words such as your's from someone who can empathize with my situation. :)

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